Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thoughts on Communion

My brother used to live downtown in the Methodist Church on a busy cross street in Providence. Across the street there is a convenience store that carries the usual milk, bread and potato chips. At some point, they began to carry cigarette papers and crack pipes, too. This upset my brother a great deal. He hurled invectives at the place and refused to shop there, even though it was the closest place around.

Today, we were at the same church hanging his gallery show. He has a series of photos from his trip to Southern Africa and the show goes up tomorrow. At some point, hungry and thirsty, I said I was going across the street for some drinks and a snack.

I stood at the refrigerator looking at the selection of drinks, when I noticed a smaller glass front refrigerated case off in a corner. Inside were tubs of kefir, a kind of creamy yogurt cheese. There were also clear tubs of what looked like humus, a paste made of chickpeas and sesame butter, lemon and garlic. I grabbed a tub of kefir and walked to the counter.

The girl behind the counter suddenly perked out of her lethargy and got a little interested.

'Do you know what that is?' she asked.

'Yes, isn't it a little like yogurt?' I replied.

'Yes! That is right!'

At which point her father walked out from the back room. He saw the kefir on the counter and got extremely excited. He ran and got a plastic spoon.

'Do you want to try?' he asked.

'Of course!' I laughed. He opened the lid and I realized that I had chosen one that had already been opened. No matter. The spoon slid into the thick white cheese and he handed a big blob of it to me. Heaven!

'Have another!' he said as he took the spoon back and dunked it again. (I guessed at this point I was buying this tub!)

'Wait. Try this...' he said as he hurried to the little refrigerator and came back with a tub of humus. He took the same spoon and scooped a big mouthful onto the end of it. The humus was incredible. Nothing at all like the oily, mealy variety you find in the grocery stores. This was a creamy tan color with striations of the greenish olive oil drizzled across the surface.

'Now this!' he laughed, pulling the lid off of a little container of flan.

During this whole feast at the counter, I learned that they were Syrians who had been living in the United States for 15 years.

When they discovered that the kefir, and now the humus, were intended as snacks, they ran to a freezer and pulled out a package of Syrian bread. Out came a slice which the daughter quickly defrosted in the microwave. The father slather kefir and humus on the bread and handed me a chunk to try. Oh, Heaven again.

I brought the feast back to the gallery in the church and relayed this story to my brother, who was convinced that the place must have changed hands since he had moved. Honestly, I don't think so. There were the same lottery tickets and crack pipes, alongside the potato chips and rolling papers. It just took someone to notice the kefir in the refrigerator to make connection with these owners..

In the Acts of the Apostles, God visits St. Peter in a dream. Three times he tells Peter that no food is impure. That it is ok to eat anything, despite the strict purity laws of the Jews of the day. Peter protests repeatedly, insisting that he would never eat food that wasn't pure... never eat with gentiles as is proscribed by the law. But God insists and moments later it is revealed that the servants of a Gentile are waiting for him to take him to join their master in a meal.

It seems to me that sharing a meal is one of the great moments of connection we, as humans, experience. Being invited to taste the food of a new friend's homeland, joining a former enemy at the table to eat and drink, sitting with people you don't yet understand or know, is truly miraculous in it's ability to bridge the gaps between us. Jesus taught this every time he broke bread with the broken. To eat with someone is to accept, love, heal.

Christians do this every time we take communion. I suspect Jesus chose that particular way of connecting because it is so powerful. Eating and drinking with each other is intimate. It is loving. It is radical, too, sometimes. We are drinking from the same cup. The doctors and lawyers. The professors and teachers. The addicts. The homeless. The sick. The well. The housewives, working people, students. Together we drink from the same cup and eat of the same body. With all Christians, everywhere in the world, for all of eternity. And with the person next to us at the rail.

Acts 10

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Last night at midnight, while reading evening prayer, I heard a screech owl. It sat for several minutes in the catalpa tree outside my window and called to me until I was finally motivated to get out of bed, grab my slippers and start for the door of my bedroom. By then, though, it had flown off.

In the din that is midnight in my neighborhood, the thrum of traffic from the highway, the sounds of cars on the main road nearby, the crickets and tree frogs, I heard an owl for the first time in my life.

This site has samples of the song. My owl sang both last night.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Miracles abound

Today was a day filled with miracles. It was one of those grace-filled days that leave you just breathless and grateful.

Today I am grateful for morning prayer, a beautiful liturgy of the Episcopal church, based on the ancient practice of praying the hours. I woke up this morning and turned to my prayer book, read the psalms and a passage from the book of Judges and said the Lord's prayer, all before having my morning pee.

I am grateful for bible study at Grace, a spiritual adventure with participants from all walks of life, all ages, all economic, social and ethnic backgrounds, all states of mental health. We bridge what would ordinarily seem like an enormous chasm to come together in love and gratitude as we explore God's holy word. Praise to you, Lord Christ, that you always (always!) show up to participate.

I am grateful for breakfast with my new friend... an 18 year old with a vocation to the priesthood. We have only been friends for a few weeks and already I feel I have received great gifts from her. I pray, Lord, that I can offer her gifts, too.

Lord, I am grateful for my funny, silly, wonderful, children. They are, perhaps, the greatest gift you have ever given me.

I am grateful for my friend Amy and the amazing work you are doing in her and through her. I am privileged watch her journey unfold as she focuses her life on doing your work. Thank you for her ministry and her vocation, Lord, and for her friendship.

And oh, God, I can't even begin to speak of how grateful I am for the ministry of the crisis pregnancy center. I could never have guessed what it is like to be in the presence of such courage. These women are my heroes, Lord. They have such courage to choose the path of life. I can't say that I would have done the same had I been in their shoes at that point in my life. I can only stand in awe of them. I offer them all to you, Lord. I ask you to continue to be with them as they face the challenges in their lives. I know you are showering them in love and grace and I thank you for that. I thank you, Lord, for the babies who are coming into the world by your grace. You know them. You love them. They are your beautiful creation. I thank you, too, for the men and women who feel called to minister there. They are doing your work, Lord. Praise God.

Lord, I thank you for this day of miracles.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Blackberry Surrender

It started a few years ago. I think a songbird dropped a single poop in our flower border. In that poop, the seeds of destruction were hiding. A shoot emerged the following year. Nothing to worry about, right? I donned a pair of kidskin garden gauntlets and yanked the offending shoot from the ground. It broke off suspiciously easily. A few days later, dozens more sprouts made their appearances in it’s place.

Now, at this point, I must admit that I am a weed gardener. By that I mean that the only plants that survive in my flowerbed are basically weeds. Echinacea, liatris, daylily, tickweed. I planted loosestrife before I realized what havoc it was causing in our wetlands. I look longingly at Joe Pye weed and aesclepias, knowing full well they would take over whatever ground they are planted in.

So I am not averse to weeds in the garden, but I want them to be there in my terms. The blackberries were pushy. They shot through the sweet yellow flowered bush my Italian neighbor gave me as a cutting. They bullied their way through the weedy flowers I had haphazardly planted. They marched across the shady spots, the sunny spots and everywhere in between. And every year I tried to pull them up, dig them out, catch them before they blossomed and bore fruit…. Because God knows if they drop seed, we are in trouble. The whole neighborhood will be taken over.

But this year, I got side tracked and the canes began to blossom before I got to them. And then I realized that they were heavy with unripe berries. Hundreds of them, bright red, waiting to ripen in the sun. So, against my better judgment, I left them to ripen.

Today, the harvest began. How much trouble can they cause if we are eating them, right? My 7 year old and I went out with a plastic container and collected the first cup of berries. We washed them when we noticed tiny green creatures crawling around on them. Tomorrow we’ll see if more are ripe. Then the next day. Then the next.

In the mean time, I have my gauntlet gloves ready for the final attack at the end of the summer. But secretly I wonder if a blackberry border would be such a bad thing after all.

Note: I am cross posting this to That is the parenting blog I write for with three friends. Come check us out!


I have been replacing the skins on some African drums lately. This is a painstaking process to learn. You start with a whole goat hide. In my case, the hides I am working with are from Mali. It comforts me to think that the goats were enjoyed as stew by a family in Africa.

The first step in the process is to soak the skin in warm water. I set it in a plastic bin in the bathtub. After a few hours it is pliable and soft.

Then I trim the skin to the size of the ring that will hold it onto the drum. The ring is being reused, so it is rusty and old, usually made of rebar that has been welded into a circle. I try to position the backbone skin of the goat down the center of the ring because it is the thickest part of the skin and you want the sound to be even.

Once the skin is on the drum, I try to tighten it evenly all the way around, pulling a rope here and there until the rings are centered. I have yet to master the art of keeping the bottom ring of the drum centered. There must be a trick to it that I don't know.

And then, the shaving. It is safer to do this while the skin is still wet because it is less dusty. African goats have been known to pick up anthrax spores, which grow naturally in the wild. There has been at least one case of an American catching anthrax from a goatskin he was working with. (Actually, he was an African living in Brooklyn.)

So I shave the skin on the drum while it is damp. I use a double edged razor blade, holding it carefully in one hand, bending it slightly with my thumb so that I have a curved blade to work with, which is less likely to nick the skin. Slowly, gently, I draw the blade towards me, working from the head end of the goat along the sides. It is hardest to shave the backbone, where the fur is very thick. The first time I did this, I was left with a bunch of nicks and little mistakes. Luckily I didn't have to scrap the whole thing. Yesterday, though, my technique had improved and the skin was beautiful afterwards.

Shaving is the slowest and most demanding part of the process, even if it isn't the most physical. It requires incredible concentration. It is easy to mess up, and if you mess it up badly enough, you have to start from scratch with another skin.

But it is also, for me, the most intimate part of the process. I get to know the goat. I come across a little scratch from a thorny bush, or a bug bite scar. I take off a tiny bit of fur at a time, getting to know it's spots and patterns. It's smell. It's texture. Yesterday I noticed a tiny swirl of fur that made me smile. I remember those swirls on the withers of the goats I have known in the past. This goat is long dead, but it lives as an organic part of something that will become joy, music, love.

At the end, when I am vaccuuming up the fur from my patio, when my hands are stuck with brown and white hair, when I find stray bits in my water glass (or wine glass!) I give a little prayer of thanks for the goat, the tree, and the spirit of the one who built the drum.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A leap of faith

Today I emptied my email inbox AND the trash folder. Altogether, that were over 8000 messages. Most of them were spam. Some were notifications from the various online forums I belong to. Lots were emails from friends and family. But really, the amount had gotten so out of hand I couldn't see myself actually picking through them one by one to figure out what to save and what to dump. So off they went. Let's see if I trashed anything important. I will bet that nothing will be irreplaceable.

A clean inbox and an empty trash folder is the cyber equivalent of a clean desk.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Who is this beautiful young man?

Noah has been at sleep away church camp for the first time this week. Last night, I had to work, so Nguyen picked him up. I got home at 10 and found Noah, still up, brimming with excitement about how his week went.

I made some biffels. (Best Friends for Life)

I threw up. He said.

Andy, our councilor, was sick. (As in cool, not as in puking.)

He demonstrated his body building pose for me and told me about how cool chapel and compline and morning prayer were. He described the lake and the ox and showed me his arts and crafts project. I saw a picture of the kids in his cabin and heard about the navy showers. He lifted his shirt and showed me his six pack. He described how he and the biffels moved their bunks together so they could talk late into the night. His arm had all their phone numbers written in sharpie marker. He seemed to have grown 6 inches in one week. He gave me a big hug.

He can't wait to go next year.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thank God for modern medical technology

My friend Carl's heart stopped last night, while he was home alone. Thank God he had a defibrillator hard wired into his heart. It kicked in, scared the crap out of him, and managed to bounce his heart back to work long enough for him to call 911.

So, I am asking you for prayers. This has been a long road. He has been on the list for a transplant for a couple of months and today I am grateful that he is still on that list.


I ask you to be with my friend Carl in the hours, days and weeks ahead. Give him courage. Comfort him. Heal him.

I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

One life

I have been teaching childbirth classes at a crisis pregnancy center here in RI.

It has been a little bit slow to start. For my first couple of series of classes I had one or two young mothers who would skip one or two of the classes. Some nights I would show up and no one would be there at all.

But we kept trying. The center's coordinator and I sat down and made a schedule for the classes for the whole year so now she can fit clients in according to due dates. People are starting to show up. Clients are coming in with their boyfriends or husbands.

I feel humbled and grateful that I can help these women prepare for their births. Some of them are confused and scared and I can reassure them that for at least this aspect of parenting, they can be prepared. And I help the dads, too. If the boyfriends or husbands show up, I teach them what to do to support their women during labor. I honor them for being a part of it. We are setting the stage for them to be active participants as parents and I tell you, you can see transformation happen before your very eyes. This is a miracle of God's grace.

Lots of times we get women who want to keep their babies and are looking for some support. But sometimes women who were planning abortions come to the center and change their minds. Sometimes those women end up in my class.

'Why do women who are planning an abortion come to the center in the first place?' I asked the coordinator.

She answered simply, 'The Lord brings them here.'

Which tells me that even in the midst of the chaos of fear, they are open, ever so slightly, to whisperings of God.

Praise to you, Lord Christ.

Friday, July 11, 2008

My new boyfriend

It has been developing slowly, but I am pretty convinced that my 3 1/2 pound rabbit, Theo, has fallen in love with me.

Lately, when I am lying on my bed, reading, he will jump up and come over for a snuggle. He takes his turn getting scratched, then returns the favor by licking my hand. If I try and pat him at that point, he actually gets mad and shoos my hand away.

Last night, I came home late. I crawled into bed in the dark and all of a sudden realized that Theo was bouncing around on the bed. I was laughing my head off, especially when he started walking across my sleeping husband.

Sigh. I am in love.

A collect for those who need continuing care

Today I pray for those who are battling chronic illness:

Look with mercy, O God our Father, on all persons who have become ill, weak, distressed, or isolated. Provide for them homes of dignity and peace; give them understanding helpers, and the willingness to accept help; and increase their faith and their assurance of your love. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

confidential to P+

Mat 25:32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
Mat 25:33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.
Mat 25:34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
Mat 25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
Mat 25:36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
Mat 25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?
Mat 25:38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?
Mat 25:39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'
Mat 25:40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Why I love church, reason # 345

This week I have been in a blue funk. My oldest kid is still in Maine with his friends and I have been caught by surprise at how incomplete the household has felt. Also, one of my friends has been gravely ill and I visited him last week... and while that in itself is a good thing, I always feel frustrated by how much I haven't done. How much I can't do. How much this whole thing is in God's hands.

Yesterday I drove to Fall River for a drumming class and found, to my dismay, that even that wasn't enough to pull my from my depression. I got in the car to come home and cried, for no reason at all. Just because.

Today, I got up early, hoping to bring my sick friend with me to Grace, but he called to say he was too sick to go. I promised to say prayers for him.

When I got to church, I shared with friends that I was feeling punky. Then I noticed a young woman looking a little lost. I asked if it was her first time and she said, in broken English, that yes, it was. It turned out she is a South Korean exchange student visiting for the first time. I was flying solo today, so I asked her to join me.

Later, I was on the healing prayer team during communion. It was amazing to be praying for my fellow congregants. Truly, it feels like a privilege.

And then, after everyone had drifted back to their pews, I turned to my prayer partner and told her that my friend was ill and needed prayers. And suddenly, without warning, I started crying and said

"I feel like I have been a shitty friend to him."

At which point, the complexity of all my feelings around my friend's health crisis came to the surface.

So her prayers were for my friend, AND for me.

I got some prayers, said some prayers, made a new friend, and got to take communion with Jesus, all in one morning.

I love church.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What if?

What if you lived life as a ministry? What if you chose your work to be of service to God? What would it look like?

Many readers of this blog are, in fact, God's workers. You have dedicated your life to ministry in an official capacity, going to work for the Big Guy in churches large and small. Some of you are community ministers, too. Ministering to the poor, the disadvantaged, the indigent or mentally ill.

Lately I have been grappling with what it means to live a life of service. I have been inviting God to take me up on my offer to be of service to him. I don't know yet, what it looks like, but I know that there are already things I am doing that feel like ministry.

My kids, for example, are perhaps the greatest ministry of all for me. And my childbirth classes. The Lectio group at church. For the last couple of weeks, pinch hitting for my rector at the bible study. Serving dinner to my friends at the soup kitchen. Praying the office.

Living a life of service changes you, I think. The other day, I heard that one of my son's schoolmates was caught smoking pot. In another life, my first concern would be fear for my son. Worry that HE would somehow get involved with this kid and his drugs. And that fear was there, of course. But my first thought was that this kid needs an adult desperately. He needs healing. He is a deeply troubled kid. I am praying for him. And maybe, at some point I will be given an opportunity to talk with him. I pray for the Holy Spirit to help me be of service to this boy. In the mean time, I had a word with my son and we talked about why drugs are a very bad choice. It was a great conversation.

What if we all lived a life of ministry?

What would the world look like?

What would our lives look like?

Friday, July 04, 2008

It's not just me

That shifty thing seems to be catchy.

My brother lost his job this week. After 13 years, he was given two weeks' notice during a major restructuring. It wasn't just him. Every employee was laid off. The entire staff was given the pink slip.

Today in the paper I read that the electric monopoly here in RI wants to raise their rates by 21%.

Gas is $4.10 a gallon.

My oil bill was $900 to fill the tank last time and that was before the price of oil spiked.

Holy Shit. Moving to Vietnam is starting to look like a reasonable option. Anyone want to join me?

In other news, we are reading the book of Acts in our bible study and I am being reminded why it is one of my favorite books of the bible. I love the story of the Simon the magician and of Peter, who really mans up in this book. No more bumbling goofus. Nope, he is one tough cookie by this point.

Reading Acts with my friends at church is a sure fire way to keep me from being swallowed by fear. That and reading the daily office.

Here is today's psalm:

Psalm 142 Voce mea ad Domine

1 I cry to the LORD with my voice; *
to the LORD I make loud supplication.
2 I pour out my complaint before him *
and tell him all my trouble.
3 When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path; *
in the way wherein I walk they have hidden a trap for me.
4 I look to my right hand and find no one who knows me; *
I have no place to flee to, and no one cares for me.
5 I cry out to you, O LORD; *
I say, "You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living."
6 Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; *
save me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your Name; *
when you have dealt bountifully with me,
the righteous will gather around me.